If anyone has an excuse to hate life, it’s my neighbor David Meadows. At just shy of 40, he’s been wheelchair-bound for the past decade. He can’t stand unassisted for any duration; he’s always in pain. It’s been like this ever since he contracted meningitis.

Where you used to see him skateboarding up and down the neighborhood with his kids and walking his dogs, you didn’t see him at all – not for the first two years he was bedridden.

David couldn’t eat, sleep or excrete without relying on someone else’s care. He lay propped up on a hospital bed in his darkened living room for long enough to break anyone’s spirit. And as if his physical atrophy weren’t bad enough, David’s bacterial infection destroyed much of his cognition.

Despite all this, he remains the happiest person I’ve ever met. He’s the happiest person anyone’s ever met.

This makes David a local celebrity in our hometown of Albuquerque.

If you’ve been to any of the Costcos or Sam’s Clubs in Albuquerque, you’re probably part of David’s fan club. He demos Vigil’s Beef Jerky as if it were the most rewarding thing anybody could do. David’s mega-watt smile – move over, Tom Cruise – and twinkling blue eyes regularly attract vegans to his carnivorous post.

People are drawn to David because his smile hints at a philosophy we all need:

If you wake up, you’re happy. Period.

That’s actually his catch phrase.

When you ask David how he’s doing, his response is always the same: “I woke up today, so I’m happy.” David gifts this verbal souvenir to everyone, and if you’ve heard it from his lips, you’re automatically part of his fan club.

You might be dwelling on your problems before you meet him: your bills are a little late, you’re feeling lost. But then you see him. He doesn’t see you just yet, so you observe him wincing to the pain radiating from his legs into his lower back – a relic of his condition. You hear him stifle a gasp just to get through to the other side of the pain; and when it’s over, his big blue eyes come to life as if he’d won the lottery. And he looks at you. And before he invites you to partake in the “best beef jerky in the world,” he asks how you’re doing. You know he means it because you can feel his heart smiling at you through those electric blue eyes. And you ask how he is. And he gives you grace:

“Today is a good day. I woke up.”

I don’t know if David’s life mission is to prove to people that they can be happy no matter what state they find themselves in, but that’s exactly what he does. I call him Albuquerque’s smiling saint.

Whenever I see him, I’m reminded that I always have a choice: If David can be happy, so can I. His impact as the smiling saint goes beyond transient joy, though. David actually gives us all a glimpse into the meaning of life.

No matter how low you are or how desolate life seems, you can give hope to somebody else by refusing to take pity on yourself, by refusing to be unhappy – just like David does. And that’s how you find your strength. It’s where you tap into a deeper purpose.

If you – having gone through all that you have, the pain, the loss, the sadness – can struggle for joy, if you can be so undeniably happy despite this broken world, then your strength will inspire others to dig a little deeper, to find their strength for others, and to realize that life – life is good.

And people need that. You need that.

So, if you find yourself in bed tomorrow morning having woken up, know that happiness is an option. It’s the best option. Just ask David.

If you want to give some love back to David for the inspiration he’s given you, please contribute to his gofundme campaign for a new wheelchair!

Originally published at millennialsuccess.io


  • Daniel Dowling

    Performance Coach, Writer for Greatist, Fitbit.com, Mindbodygreen, and FastCompany.

    Dan Dowling, here. I was the poster child for lost millennials - couldn’t keep a job…addicted to relationships…constantly checking social media and email. But when I got hungry enough for success as a writer, I gave up my distracted lifestyle and adopted one daily goal that changed my life forever: Do. Your. Best. Today, five years later, I’m a productivity coach who’s published on the world’s biggest sites (including Entrepreneur, Fast Company and Mindbodygreen), and I’m transforming lives through the best-effort, zero-distraction lifestyle that worked so well for me. Come and and learn how to always give your best at Millennial Success!